Australia in the 1900s


Summary of the decade

After the class conflict and economic division of the 1890s, the 1900s saw a genuine desire to ensure that such problems never arose in Australia again. After Federation in 1901, new laws were passed to ensure that disputes between workers and employers were settled fairly at an Arbitration tribunal.

Under the Australian Constitution, the Commonwealth Government had the power to make laws for all Australians excluding Indigenous peoples, who were left in the control of the states and were not counted in the Commonwealth census.

Simultaneously, a series of other progressive initiatives were achieved: women gained the right to vote and stand for parliament; pensions for the elderly and invalids were instituted.

In 1906, the 'New Protection' legislative law was passed. New Protection dominated the work of the newly formed Commonwealth Parliament. The law was a major policy direction of that Parliament's social engineering. In common with other newly created countries, the Commonwealth of Australia sought to determine the type of society it wished to be and to implement policies towards that end, such as the so-called White Australia Policy. The society envisioned was that of an affluent white society. This policy had serious consequences for existing Indigenous and ethnic groups in the country or wanting to immigrate.  

In December 1902, Brisbane was accorded city status.

Although now 'Australian' by geography, many people still thought of themselves as British. This was exemplified by popular children's books such as Deeds that Won the Empire by WH Fitchett.

A snapshot of 1908

  • March
    • Mawson and David scale Mount Erebus in Antarctica.

  • May
    • The first official Australian Coat of Arms is granted.
    • Alfred Deakin's government is defeated and Andrew Fisher becomes prime minister.

  • July
    • The Invalid and Old Age Pensions Act 1908 (Cth) is passed

  • August
    • The Great White Fleet sent by President Roosevelt arrives in Australia at Alfred Deakin's request.

  • September
    • 'My Country', Dorothy Mackellar's poem, is published in London's Spectator.

  • October
    • Canberra is selected for the site of a national capital city.


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